So you want to fly drones farther away than what your eye can see. Maybe you’re working on a drone delivery service, or you’re inspecting a field so large that the drone flies over the horizon. Maybe, you’re just surveying a building — and you can’t see through buildings. If you’re flying drones beyond your visual line of sight, you’re going to need a Part 107 BVLOS waiver.
Under Federal Aviation Administration Part 107.31, the remote pilot in command, as well as any visual observers or other persons manipulating the flight controls must be able to see the drone throughout the entire flight.
But if you have a Part 107 BVLOS waiver from the FAA, you’ll be able to carry out your drone flight, without adhering to that rule. Here’s the thing: as of June 2020, just 56 waivers have ever been issued.
The most common waiver is for 107.29, which allows drones to fly at night. And in a stark contrast — as of June 2020 — the FAA has doled out 4,357 waivers for flying drones at night.
A Part 107 BVLOS waiver is notoriously difficult to get. In fact, over 99% of BVLOS waiver applications have been rejected by the FAA, according to a 2018 PrecisionHawk analysis of Part 107 data.
Why is it so hard to get a Part 107 BVLOS waiver?
To get a Part 107 BVLOS waiver, you must prove to the FAA that your drone operations can be conducted safely without endangering other aircraft, people, or property on the ground or in the air.
“The request seems straightforward enough,” PrecisionHawk, which is a commercial drone and data company, wrote in a whitepaper. “But how do you demonstrate safety? How can you mitigate the risks? What data points are involved? How can you even conduct safety research if you can’t operate beyond visual range?”
PrecisionHawk’s white paper argues that it’s difficult to prove your flight can be safe when you’re flying blind.
“The process to obtain a BVLOS waiver is complex, ambiguous and onerous,” their report said. “The lucky few who do pass are given a waiver with only the narrowest of flight plans.”
Even if you’re eventually approved, the process can be lengthy. A 2019 report from Skyward found that it takes the FAA about 90 days to review and either approve or deny an application.
How you can improve your odds of getting a Part 107 BVLOS waiver approved
There are three things, according to PrecisionHawk, that the FAA wants to see in order to approve you for a waiver: detection, safety and training.
Technology: PrecisionHawk spelled out a number of components your drone should include to make it technically safe and sound in the eyes of the FAA.
- Detection tech: The FAA expects that your drone is equipped with technology that can identify other aircraft in the airspace — and respond by moving safely away. That system should have a minimum range of three nautical miles in a 360° field of regard.
- Drone tracking: Your drone should have hardware- and/or software-based systems that transmit its own live trajectory information of itself.
- Real-time Manned Aircraft Data Feed: This feed would have to be a low-latency fee of cooperative aircraft, and their location and trajectory. It would present alerts — visual and audible — to the pilot.
Safety: The FAA wants to see a safe flight plan. That means the pilot and Remote Pilot in Command are aware of existing airspace classes, temporary flight restrictions, and no-fly zones, and they’ve conducted pre-flight checks of hardware. And, in the event of an in-flight failure, there’s a plan.
Training: Finally, the pilots should be skilled. PrecisionHawk even suggest that a practical performance evaluation should be necessary as part of the training.
But it might not actually have to be that complicated. Iris Automation, a San Francisco-based company building a computer-vision-based collision avoidance system for drones, in June launched a Waiver Resource Center. It’s basically a subscription product where on-demand policy experts can write BVLOS waivers applications for drone pilots.
Iris says it’s meant to help drone operator access tools for managing the waiver submission process specific to BVLOS operations. It’s essentially a hybrid of software-as-a-service plus expert aviation policy consulting. With it, you’ll have access to Iris Automation’s waiver templates.
While it’s largely targeted U.S. operators, the Waiver Resource Center also supports Transport Canada BVLOS Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOCs), and International CAA BVLOS waivers.
Of course, it’s not free. Though unlike law firms and consultants, which bill hourly, the WRC is sold as a subscription, starting at $350 per month.
How to submit a Part 107 BVLOS waiver request
As far as submitting your Part 107 BVLOS waiver request, the process is simple — and you can do it yourself. Log on to your Part 107 Dashboard on the FAA’s Drone Zone website.
You’ll arrive at a landing page that looks like this:
Simply click “Create Part 107 Waiver/Authorization” once you’re ready to proceed (of course, read through the FAA’s guidance first).
From there, you’ll select what type of waiver or authorization you need. After all, the same portal is used to submit requests to fly in controlled airspace.
Then, you’ll get to the meat of your application. You’ll have 15,000 to explain the safety aspect of your operation.
And finally, you’ll have 15,000 characters to explain the parameters of your operation.
As of this time last year in the U.S., there were only about two dozen approved BVLOS flights. Among them: Bay Area-based drone delivery company Matternet has permission to make drone deliveries on the WakeMed hospital campus in Raleigh, NC. Flirtey secured approval to fly their drones to deliver defibrillators beyond visual line of site at the FAA test site in Reno, Nevada. Insurer State Farm was recently approved to fly both BVLOS and over people to conduct damage assessments for insurance adjustments. And in upstate New York, the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance is flying BVLOS as part of the nation’s first and only 50-mile drone corridor for beyond visual line-of-sight UAS testing.